Cinema

Soul singer

Standing just a few steps behind her idol A.R. Rahman as he sang ‘Naan Yen Pirandhen’ (Why Was I Born) for Coke Studio in 2013, Shashaa realised the song’s existential questions were those she’d been asking too. “It had to have meant something more, right?” Shashaa says, explaining why the song is still her caller tune.

She had abandoned a pre-medical course in Canada to move to India so she could pursue music full-time. The big break had not happened and the films she’d sung for (“you wouldn’t have heard of any of them”) didn’t give her much recognition. The going was tough and she was asking herself if she’d made the right decision.

But when she backed A. R. Rahman in this meaningful song, she felt as though her questions were being answered. “He called out for me from the chorus after a rehearsal. A few weeks later, I got a call from his studio. Nothing has been the same since.” She went on to sing hits like ‘Naane Varugiren’ ( O Kadhal Kanmani), ‘Aye Mr. Minor’ ( Kaaviya Thalaivan) and ‘Punnagaye’( 24).

She says she still doesn’t know how she was able to sing those songs. “When I listened to the scratch tracks for the first time, all I could say was ‘God! May I deliver.’ But I used the pressure as a catalyst to perform better.”

So when she was asked to sing ‘Rasaali’ for Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada, Rahman had told her that he wanted to see the real Shashaa. The ‘ninnukori’ piece in the song, especially, was Shashaa being herself. Those 30 seconds were compiled from 20 minutes of variations she’d given him. “Isn’t it his genius that he could convey so much in that time?”

Growing up in Canada, in a house that echoed with the songs of Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi, music was always an interest. But she didn’t imagine it leading to a professional career then. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as playback singing.”

She kept training by plugging in an auxiliary cable to a tape recorder and singing along to tracks on musicindiaonline.com. “There wasn’t much YouTube back then.” But it all changed with the release of Guru, “I still tear up when I listen to ‘Jaage Hain Der Tak’. When I listened to the album, I realised they were exactly the kind of songs I wanted to sing.”

This began her near devotion to the music of A.R. Rahman, “I used to have his picture in my temple until I realised he wouldn’t have appreciated such things.” Eventually, she moved to India. “It was my big plunge.”

She calls this phase her toughest, as she struggled to find a foothold in the competitive field of playback singing. “I used to feel I lacked something all the great singers seemed to have. I knew my singing was technically proficient, but in my efforts to train my voice and learn music, I didn’t realise that there is such a thing as ‘soul’ to singing.”

So what lead to this discovery? “I think it’s the emotional evolution I went through at that stage. There were phases in Bombay when I didn’t have a house to stay. I would have to travel two-and-a-half hours to give producers sample CDs. I dealt with rejection on an everyday basis. But I was able to channel all that pain into my singing. That’s what made the difference. When someone asks you to wait in the rain for six hours and then refuses to meet you, you don’t stay the same person anymore.”

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 4:14:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Soul-singer/article14569628.ece

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